Getting The New NFL Roster Rule Changes Straight In My Mind

The new CBA was, I guess, ratified earlier this year, and with it came the usual sprinkling of tweaks to the rules. I still don’t have it all straight in my mind – there’s apparently going to be seven teams from each conference making the playoffs (with only the #1 seeds getting a first round BYE), and I guess a 17-game schedule is coming for some reason (greed) – but one of the biggies that flew under my radar is how NFL rosters are going to look for a while.

Truth be told, this post is just for me. I feel like I’ll have a better chance of remembering these fakakta alterations if I write them down. To save yourself some agony, just read Bob Condotta’s article from today’s Seattle Times; he says it better than I ever could.

So, up until now, NFL rosters have maxed out at 53 players, with 46 of those guys active on game days. Why this is a thing, I’ll never understand (greed again), but whatever. It usually doesn’t make a HUGE difference anyway, because you’re talking about the bottom of the roster barrel, plus it’s football: there are usually enough guys with nagging injuries that need to sit out a game here and there anyway (this also probably saves on players getting thrown on Injured Reserve, as long as there aren’t too many other injuries at the same position).

NOW, teams can have up to 55 players on their rosters, with up to 48 active on gameday. The caveats (because OF COURSE there are caveats (because greed, almost assuredly)) are that two of the 55 must come from your practice squad, only to be elevated the day before a game; and at least one of the 48 must be an eighth offensive lineman.

That offensive lineman rule feels like the Seahawks snuck it in as a rider to this huge piece of legislation at the eleventh hour that REALLY only helps our team. Why would the majority of NFL teams need an eighth offensive lineman? What are the odds that you’d have THREE O-Line injuries in the same game? That’s pretty remote, I have to imagine. BUT, the odds increase if – like the Seahawks – you regularly employ the use of a sixth lineman in certain jumbo packages. I mean, you might as well call this the George Fant Provision! It would make more sense if George Fant was still here, and not penciled in to be the starting left tackle for the New York Jets, but you get the idea.

NFL teams usually roster around nine offensive linemen, with only seven being active on gameday. Does this mean most teams will now roster ten? Is that why the Seahawks went H.A.M. in the O-Line free agent market? I’ll go out on a limb and say “Yes”; why not?!

It does make it interesting, however, that the Seahawks put so much effort into refilling their tight end room on top of it. I’m still expecting one or two surprise veteran cuts at some point before the regular season starts, but people have speculated that the other extra roster spot could be devoted to keeping a fourth or even a fifth tight end (particularly if one of those guys – like Stephen Sullivan – straddles the definition between tight end and wide receiver).

We can speculate on that until we’re all blue in the face, so let’s move on.

Things get moderately interesting when we talk about the practice squad. Instead of ten players, it will now have twelve (with, again, two of those players being promoted to the active roster every week). The same rules apply in that if any other team wants to poach one of your practice squad guys, they can do so, as long as they are being signed to that team’s active roster (you can of course, I’m assuming, do the same to prevent those coveted players from fleeing). Two of your practice squad players can have an unlimited number of accrued years under their belts (before, it had to be no more than two years), so if you’re a longtime veteran who’s looking to stay in the league as long as humanly possible (and you don’t mind earning those low, low practice squad wages), then you’re in luck!

I’m, you know … I’m looking at you, Luke Willson.

Getting back to the roster increase from 53 to 55, as I said those two players have to come from that week’s practice squad. The catch is, those two players either have to return to the practice squad the next day, or you have two waive two other guys to keep them on. And, you can only return a player to the practice squad twice per season without exposing them to waivers. After that, every time they’d have to pass through (though, I don’t know if that’s a super big deal, because any team can take any player from your practice squad at any time, if they really want ’em).

Is it a perfect system? Of course not, it never will be. If it were up to me, players on the practice squad would be YOUR guys and would never be subjected to waivers unless you specifically WAIVED them (because you no longer want them). The “practice squad”, in this sense, would be like the minor leagues in baseball, and instead of worrying about your new draft picks being ready to play right away, you could take more chances on prospects/projects, without worrying about losing them through the life of their rookie deals. That seems like a much better solution than subjecting a longtime veteran to the indignity of either taking a practice squad deal or getting dropped from the league entirely.

Now that I’ve laid it all out here, I realize these changes sounded much more significant when the CBA was first announced. But, these are pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of football things; I guess that’s why I waited until mid-May to finally learn some of the nuances.